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I’ve recently written about my experience with a narcissist, and regularly I see the same comments. “What about when the narcissist is a parent?”
As I have researched and studied this subject in depth, I have decided to write about what happens when the narcissist is a parent. I aim to provide guidance and understanding for both someone who has a narcissist parent, and someone who is co-parenting with a narcissist.
Narcissists have many sides and they choose very carefully which side they wish to show depending on how it will benefit them. Therefore, when someone enters into a relationship with a narcissist it can take some time before the narcissist’s true colours are revealed. Sadly, for some, this revelation can come far too late, when commitments such as bringing children into the world may have been entered into.
Not that anyone regrets having children; however, there may be major regrets about choosing to have a child with a narcissist, as they are not only extremely destructive in romantic partnerships, but also capable of causing extensive damage as parents.
On the other side, it may be that the narcissist is the parent of someone who is reading this now, and this can also be terribly painful and extremely difficult to accept. The sad thing is, we often have high expectations for those who are parents. We forget that they are also human beings outside of their role as a parent and that in that role of being human they can have various issues and abusive personality disorders.
We regularly turn a blind eye to the faults of our parents, and instead of looking at their behaviour we turn their words and actions inwards and believe that we must be to blame for however they are acting. It doesn’t matter whether we are a child or a grown up, we can still find it difficult to identify where the parental line starts and where the child’s line ends.
To be sure we do not absorb the negativity and toxicity that a narcissist radiates, it is imperative that we understand more about how and why they behave as they do, and also how the dynamics between the parent and child play out.
The most important thing to remember is that although it may seem as though a narcissist’s actions are cold, callous and intentional, often a narcissist is not operating from a conscious level, and these things are delivered without the narcissist realising the pain and trauma they are causing.
Narcissists are usually deeply wounded and have little clue as to how their behaviour affects and destroys other people. Narcissists may use children to reinforce their low self-esteem.
They not only struggle to have compassion and see how other people’s emotions work, they will also find it impossible to empathise when someone else is hurt and in pain.
The child of a narcissist exists solely to be of benefit to their parent, and the narcissist will see their children as an extension of themselves. They fail to realise that the child has their own emotional requirements and the narcissist will use manipulative methods to prevent the child from expressing these needs.
Narcissists view their children as possessions and often have extremely close, exclusive and possessive relationships with them. The narcissist will have complete control over their child and will feel resentful and jealous if the child wants to break free from their clutches and create a life of their own. A narcissist will put the child down to make them feel inferior and worthless so that they struggle to maintain the level of confidence needed to exist independently.
A narcissist will successfully brainwash their child during the early years and switch from kindness to meanness in a flash, so the child will feel constantly unstable and desperately cling to their parent. For young children, the parent is the main influence in their lives; the child trusts their parent and will not realise until later years, if at all, that their parent’s behaviour was abusive.
The child will often feel fearful to rock the boat with their parent, as at any moment the narcissist can unleash a torrent of aggression and anger on them, and then, within moments appear to be the most loving and caring person possible. If the child behaves and falls into line with what their parent wants, all will go smoothly, so the child keeps themselves firmly aligned with their parent through fear rather than love.
Sadly, that means that the child will grow up to be confused about what love looks like and will view love as something that has conditions placed on it. They know that to receive the narcissist parent’s love they must act accordingly and please the narcissist at all times. The moment they turn away from the narcissist all hell can seem to be breaking loose. No child, even an adult child, wants to constantly be at war with a parent, so most often the easiest thing to do is to work hard to please the parent.
If there is more than one child in the family the narcissist parent will often have a favourite who can do no wrong in their eyes. This creates even more insecurities for the child at whom the resentment is targeted. The child will feel as though they are imagining things, as it seems that everyone else around them, including their sibling, is treated very differently.
Again, the narcissist will pick and choose who sees particular sides of them depending on what it is they have to gain. When the child seeks help or support from others it can be likely that no one else sees what is really going on. The narcissist uses forms of gaslighting to blow up situations and make it look as though the child is at fault. This further affirms to the child that they are completely to blame and deserve everything that happens to them. It can also make the child feel as though they are going crazy, as no one else can identify with what it is they are going through.
The narcissist will likely choose the favourite child depending upon what it is they have to gain. If the child is easy to manipulate and doesn’t question or look closely at any of their behaviours, the narcissists will see them as an ally to their game. It is always handy for a narcissist to have many people on their side, as this ensures their charade is well-hidden and they are not going to be found out for whom they truly are.
A narcissist needs an energy feed, and if they have a child who is sensitive, it is highly likely that child will become the one who suffers the most. The narcissist will draw energy from the drama and the suffering they cause, and the easier a person is to hurt, the more likely a narcissist is to keep the dynamic going.
The dance between the narcissist and child only ends when the child removes their emotional reactions completely and refuses to continue being the victim of their abuser. This is extremely difficult for the child, because of all the people we are connected to, the most difficult one to break free from is a parent—especially when the relationship has been an abusive one.
Most often the child is fully into adulthood and has found some confidence and worked hard to maintain a healthy level of self-esteem before they have the strength to place their parent at a safe distance.
The road to recovery will not be an easy one, however, once we have recognised and have a good understanding of someone’s personality type, it is far easier to offer compassion and forgiveness. It is not easy to accept that this kind of abuse has taken place, but, when we remember that narcissism is a mental health disorder, we can begin to see it as something other than just nasty and vicious behaviour.
Unconditional love for a parent who is a narcissist is not at all easy, though, it is possible if we remove judgment and stop having expectations that will disappoint us every time.
As difficult as it is to see at the time, narcissists are wounded and in pain themselves. Hurt people hurt people. Although this is no excuse and I don’t think for a moment we should allow and accept this type of behaviour to infect our lives, I do think that we should open to the fact that people who are narcissists generally do not set out to deliberately cause trauma.
If they do not reach a level of understanding, it is likely that the child of a narcissist will also develop traits of a narcissist. Deeply wounded, hurt and reeling from all the abuse, they may then repeat the cycle of abuse and do unto others as they have had done to them.
A child who is now living with a narcissist parent or has grown up with one needs to do a tremendous amount of healing work to ensure that they do not either become a narcissist or that they do not attract relationships with narcissists in the future. Unfortunately we often attract that which feels most comfortable. If all we have known is narcissistic “love,” there is a high chance we will attract the illusion of “love” with a narcissist.
To heal from the abuse of a narcissist it is essential to understand that the child is not the one who has been at fault. This will take a long time to fully accept, but the more the child of a narcissist learns about the condition, the better chance they have of understanding that.
Boundaries also need to be put in place to ensure the narcissist parent does not have access to emotions that can easily be triggered. Firm, clear and tough guidelines must be set in place if the relationship is to continue. It is essential to protect other children and grandchildren to prevent them from also being in the line of fire and susceptible to similar abuse.
Independence is key to ensuring that the narcissist will not have the ability to manipulate and control the child’s life. This is not easy when the child is young; however, as an adult child it is imperative to take small steps to build a life free from the narcissist parent.
It is essential to remember that when the child has escaped the clutches they are a survivor and no longer a victim. Regular affirmations to reinforce how far the child has come and how valuable they are as an individual are both extremely important. Therapy and support from others who have gone through similar situations can also help with the recovery process.
If the child is young and is living with the narcissist parent it is beneficial to seek guidance from a mental health organisation to gain advice about the individual situation.
Traits of a narcissist parent:
Lies compulsively to their child
Neglects the child’s needs
Puts the child down and makes them feel insignificant
Acts as though they are always right
Contradicts behaviour constantly by telling the child how special they are
Tries to create a co-dependent relationship
Has to be the centre of attention
Uses manipulation and gaslighting to create drama
Totally self-absorbed, the child is seen as a nuiscance
Uses the child as a tool to gain financial wealth or material goods
Has an excuse or an explanation for everything, never takes responsibility
Rules with an iron fist so the child is in fear
Will criticise constantly but pretend it is for the child’s own benefit
There are no boundaries, the parent feels as though they own complete access to all the child’s private emails, phone calls, relationships etc.
Blames everyone else for everything that happens to them
Tries to gain sympathy by pretending they are emotionally vulnerable
Seems to take great pleasure through causing drama
Image means everything to them so they will not appreciate the child doing anything to disrupt it
Uses emotional blackmail
Extremely jealous and will sabotage their child rather than see them do well
Puts the child on display so that others think they are a great parent
Pushes the child to extreme levels to do well so they can brag to others about how well they have brought them up
Makes the child feel as though they are not good enough